Photo at 242 Main by Tim Snow, @TimSnowPhoto

Memorial Auditorium & 242 Main: An Open Letter to Burlington, Vermont

We all share a hope that our next generation is informed, critically minded, self-confident, and empowered to lead with compassion and reason. One of Burlington’s significant cultural achievements — 242 Main — is a beacon of this commitment. We also know that if we don’t step forward to play a role in shaping the future of our city, there will be no role for us in the effort; it will be guided by others. 242 Main is located inside Memorial Auditorium, a building with structural issues, due for repair, replacement, or redevelopment. In any iteration of its future, it could and should carry forward programming that serves our community, and should especially preserve the presence and mission of 242 Main.

The discussion at the City Council Community Development Neighborhood Revitalization Committee meeting this week was inclined toward sustaining 242 Main on many levels: The city councilors spoke in favor of including the low-barrier-to-participation activities and arts programming that Memorial has traditionally provided; both CEDO and the UVM representatives acknowledged that whatever resulted for architecture could support diverse community interests; and there was a sense of expectation that the public would have a voice in the future uses of the building, beyond offering simple approval for it’s redevelopment as an arena. The RFP was discussed as emerging either as specifically for an arena, or more generally as an opportunity for the community to explore the “optimal” uses for whatever emerges from the project. The choice of which RFP would materialize was explained to be whichever one Mayor Weinberger would eventually “deem.” Councilors Colburn, Ayers, and Roof were vigilant in protecting public interests in relation to Memorial Auditorium and for maintaining a healthy, critical disposition that preserved the opportunity for 242 Main to continue to exist among other programs.

“UVM’s varsity athletic use would approximate 65 events a year. There’s a lot of time and a lot of space to come up with public uses, with coordination with recreation and parks, with other arts promoters using the facility… Your question is actually best answered from a design perspective. How is a facility programmatically envisioned and designed to be able to meet a multitude of needs?” — Jeffrey D. Glassberg

Councilor Colburn described the recent history of reduced programming and attendance at 242 Main. A continual withdrawal of resources by the city starved the program through the past decade. Councilor Colburn reminded us that 242 Main had a worthy original vision and has potential that could be achieved with renewed focus. As an advocate for 242 Main and the important values it represents to our community, I’ve encouraged the Mayor to address this, in meetings and correspondence, for years.

Our city has the capacity to serve our youth and reflect how special it is that they gave Burlington claim to a place in the nation’s cultural history — 242 Main is the country’s longest-running all-ages punk rock venue. In the month leading up to the closure of Memorial, Mayor Weinberger declined a conversation that would have helped him comprehend how 242 Main’s historic significance could be an asset to Burlington, entirely apart from its fundamental service to our youth. The product of more than thirty years and multiple generations of our young citizens is now, in the current plans of the Administration, discarded. I challenge that our conscience will allow this to happen; we are a better city than this.

A petition that is supportive of a cooperative preservation of 242 Main within the ‘future’ Memorial Auditorium is at http://tinyurl.com/Save242Main The history and meaningfulness of 242 Main is described there. The city is exploring how to host teen-led programming elsewhere, but the singularity of 242 Main is inescapable.

Beyond 242 Main, Memorial Auditorium as a whole — either repaired, redeveloped, or rebuilt as a ‘Gateway Block’ with community partners — is an opportunity for Burlington to achieve some of what it’s sought in recent public conversations about development. We know we need affordable housing that rents for less than $1,000; we desire an innovation accelerator that fosters our newest and most creative business startups; a warm winter-time public commons that humanely doesn’t extract a commercial transaction; street-facing spaces for local retail that extend Burlington’s unique personality; the raw performing arts infrastructure that is also evaporating with the auditorium; box-style practice space for all the arts that support gathering and motion… The list of community needs is far more extensive than this, and many or most could be met in a spirit of pure mutual support among the Weinberger administration, UVM, community partners, and the citizens who make the ultimate decisions about who we are, who we serve, and how we measure our success as a community.

Our city councilors spoke impressively for their constituents and will ensure the path forward for Memorial Auditorium is transparent and, ultimately, the vision of Burlington’s voters.

I hope, with trust and faith, that Mayor Weinberger will discover the respect that’s due to 242 Main and that there is a wide world of potential allies in our community that he hasn’t yet come to know or empathize with.

Thank you, very much, for signing the 242 Main petition http://tinyurl.com/Save242Main, for forwarding this message, and for asking your city councilors to ensure Memorial’s future is transparently in our hands as a community. We can honor our values while we move into the future; there is no argument, only a verdant opportunity for collaboration that saves our traditions and expands them in Memorial Auditorium.

The Save 242 Main petition: http://tinyurl.com/Save242Main

Background about 242 Main: https://medium.com/@jameslockridge/saving-242-main-where-a-city-empowered-teens-to-make-history-5d4f5964dab5

A 242 Main documentary film in production: http://www.bigheavyworld.com/blog/2016/10/17/242-main-documentary/

An article about DIY spaces worth reading: http://www.westword.com/arts/musician-and-urban-planning-expert-on-the-economic-and-social-value-of-diy-spaces-8574181